Child Data Citizen: How Tech Companies Are Profiling Us from before Birth
Veronica Barassi is a Professor in Media and Communications at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. She is the author of Activism on the Web: Everyday Struggles against Digital Capitalism.
An examination of the datafication of family life—in particular, the construction of our children into data subjects.
Our families are being turned into data, as the digital traces we leave are shared, sold, and commodified. Children are datafied even before birth, with pregnancy apps and social media postings, and then tracked through childhood with learning apps, smart home devices, and medical records. In Child Data Citizen, Veronica Barassi examines the construction of children into data subjects, describing how their personal information is collected, archived, sold, and aggregated into unique profiles that can follow them across a lifetime. Children today are the very first generation of citizens to be datafied from before birth, and Barassi points to critical implications for our democratic futures.
Barassi draws on a three-year research project with parents in London and Los Angeles, which included the collection of fifty in-depth interviews, a digital ethnography of “sharenting” activities on social media by eight families over the course of eight months, and a two-year exploration of the datafication of her own family. She complements her ethnographic findings with a platform analysis of four social media platforms, ten health tracking apps, four home hubs, and four educational platforms, investigating the privacy policies, business models, and patent applications that enable the mining of children's data. Barassi considers the implications of building a society where data traces are made to speak for and about citizens across a lifetime. What should we do when we realize that the narratives that algorithms construct about individuals are inaccurate and biased?
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